The University of Miami enters the 2011 season under a cloud of uncertainty.
Especially considering the NCAA has yet to announce whether 12 players will face suspensions for alleged violations made by former UM booster Nevin Shapiro, a convicted felon who masterminded a $930 million Ponzi scheme and said he gave multiple gifts to Miami players including cash, cars, prostitutes and more, over an eight-year period from 2002 to 2010.
Eight of the 12 players named by Shapiro are on the defensive side of the ball, where first-year head coach Al Golden already faced the challenge of replacing five players who departed for the NFL.
This puts freshman defensive end Anthony Chickillo, UM's top recruit and a former standout a Tampa's Alonso High, squarely in the mix to make an immediate impact.
"He is rugged and tough and plays with a great motor," said UM defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio. "It means a lot to him -- he loves football and he is passionate and he studies. I have been real happy with him. When you inject a guy like that into your team and into your lineup, then all of a sudden that is a guy that isn't going to go away and that is a message to everybody else on the defensive line."
Chickillo, who earned Under Armour All-American Game MVP honors after his senior season at Alonso, has had a strong fall camp and has earned praise from his peers.
"He's a monster," cornerback Michael Williams said.
Wide receiver LaRon Byrd said: "He is a guy that came in and you would think he is a sophomore already. He is big, he's strong, and he's fast. He already has great technique and I think he will be a key addition to this team."
"He is one of the most physically impressive defensive ends I have seen in a while come out of high school," said defensive end Adewale Ojomo.
Chickillo has been receiving first-team reps in practice and could earn a starting job in the season opener against Maryland on September 5, as projected defensive end starters Olivier Vernon and Ojomo are two of the 12 players that could be out due to possible suspensions.
"I trust in the coaches," Chickillo said. "If they want me to run with the first team, then I will run with the first team."
Despite all of the uncertainty at UM, which could result in possible sanctions handed down by the NCAA following their investigation, Chickillo insists nothing has changed his mind about wanting to be at UM.
"Absolutely not," Chickillo said. "I've waited my whole life to come here. I'm happy I have Coach Golden as my coach. I'm happy with the team and I love being here. I come here every day ready to work."
Chickillo is a third-generation Hurricane as his father Tony and grandfather Nick both played at UM. Both wore the No. 71 jersey, and Anthony will, as well.
"That's really cool for me," he said. "My dad wore that number, his dad wore it too, and I get to wear what they did. I always planned to do that at Miami even though I obviously wore 95 in high school."
Chickillo plans on extending the tradition to a fourth generation.
"One day, I'll even take my son to Miami," he said. "No doubt, there's going to be a 4G (generation)."
Chickillo isn't the only freshman that will be needed to contribute with the upperclassmen's status in limbo.
"They have to be (ready)," Golden said. "I told you back in January that some of them would have to be ready to play, and thank goodness that they are what we thought they are. A lot of them are tough, smart, and came in great condition, which gave them an opportunity."
Quarterback Jacory Harris, linebacker Sean Spence, wide receiver Travis Benjamin, and safeties Ray Ray Armstrong and Vaughn Telemaque were among the players listed by Shapiro as having received improper benefits. JoJo Nicolas, Marcus Robinson, Dyron Dye, and Aldarius Johnson round out the group.
"We're just coaching the team," Golden said. "We're trying to move the team forward. We'll make sure we practice enough guys because we really don't know what the future brings. Hopefully we'll find out in the near future if there are any penalties or suspensions and we'll adjust accordingly."
Golden said Friday that the university has asked the NCAA to decide the eligibility of a number of football players who are believed to have committed violations in dealings with Shapiro. The NCAA's decision is expected early next week.
Miami declared eight players ineligible, a person with knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press, in what's described as a procedural move.
When a player is found to have committed a violation, that player must be declared ineligible by the university — a necessary step before the NCAA can decide if the athlete should be reinstated.
"We have filed paperwork to the NCAA as of late last night, which is part of the normal process," Golden said Friday. "The only entity that can reinstate them is the NCAA."
Sanctions could include sitting out games, having to repay any money accepted, or both. Miami has asked for an expedited ruling, a request the NCAA typically complies with.
Being declared ineligible now doesn't necessarily mean a player would miss any time this season.
Having Chickillo ready to contribute will be important for Golden regardless of what the NCAA decides.
Whatever happens with the investigation, Chickillo is happy with life in Coral Gables.
"It's everything I ever wanted and everything I ever expected," he said.
It's doubtful he could have imagined a situation quite like this. It's doubtful anyone could.